COVID-19 Special Coverage
Federal judge blocks Kansas from limiting attendance at in-person religious services
stempow / Pixabay
Federal judge blocks Kansas from limiting attendance at in-person religious services

A federal judge on Saturday blocked Kansas from limiting attendance at in-person religious services or activities to 10 or fewer people to prevent the spread of COVID-19, indicating that he believes that the policy violates First Amendment rights.

This ruling prevents the enforcement of Executive Order No. 20-18 issued by Governor Laura Kelly, which sought to prohibit mass gatherings of more than 10 people. US District Judge John Broome’s decision will remain in effect until May 2.

The original lawsuit was filed by two churches—First Baptist Church and Calvary Baptist Church—which both held Easter services with 20 or more congregation members present.

In this Case, EO 2—18 and EO-25 expressly purport to restrict in-person religious assembly by more than ten congregants. In that sense, they are not facially neutral. Defendant asserts that despite the express restrictions imposed on religious assembly, the laws are facially neutral because they apply as well to a much broader swath of secular activity in addition to the overt limitations placed on church gatherings. Nevertheless, while these executive orders begin with a broad prohibition against mass gatherings, they proceed to care out broad exemption for a host of secular activities, many of which bear similarities to the sort of personal contact that will occur during in-person religious services.

Kansas has 1,790 confirmed cases of coronavirus and 86 deaths, six of which are related to religious gatherings.

For more on COVID-19, see our special coverage.